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ASU experts discuss the safety of 'antibacterial' products

May 19, 2011

Killing germs has become a national obsession. But are these chemicals really safe for human health and the environment? Can we really be germ-free? ASU experts Rolf Halden and Ben Hurlbut will co-present “Germ-free and Other Myths: Examining Antimicrobial Products” at 5:30 p.m, May 20, at the Arizona Science Center.

Recent research has raised concerns about a pair of antimicrobial compounds that are found in an array of personal care products. The chemicals triclosan and triclocarban are marketed as “antibacterial” ingredients in items such as soap, toothpaste and deodorant. Triclosan also is formulated into everyday items ranging from plastics and toys to articles of clothing.

These chemicals now pervade our bodies and the environment, showing up in 60 percent of all rivers and streams nationwide, and at detectable levels in breast milk of 97 percent of all U.S. women.

Halden, a biologist and environmental engineer, was the first to reveal nationwide contamination with triclocarban in 2005. His initial and subsequent research is part of a wider effort aimed at alerting the public and regulatory agencies, including the EPA and FDA, of the dangers of these chemicals as well as developing effective remediation strategies. He is assistant director at the Biodesign Institute’s Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, at Arizona State University.

Hurlbut studies the historical development of approaches to governance of emerging technologies in the United States. He is an assistant professor at the Center for Biology and Society at ASU.

The free event is organized by the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU and will be held at the Arizona Science Center at 600 E. Washington St. Phoenix, AZ 85004.

Science Cafés are informal discussions that bring together members of the community and university scientists to discuss how science and technology can change the future. In a typical café, scientists speak for 15-20 minutes on a topic, with the rest of the time for the public to ask questions and raise concerns. Teachers receive one hour of professional development for each cafe attended.

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